30 04 2013


Officially, as a pillar of the community, I have little tolerance of swear words. I expect high standards of literacy from my students and about 90% of the times that they hastily mutter a tirade of swear words under their breath, there are usually at least a dozen better ways of expressing their displeasure at their situation.

However, as a Drama teacher I often find myself in situations where my students are enacting real life on stage and whether we like it or not – in life people swear. It makes perfect sense that an actor enacting a role may use language that is not natural to them and I refuse to censor my students. However I would never force them to use language that they are uncomfortable with either! This is an issue that arises particularly, although not exclusively, in GCSE and A-Level classes. In terms of the examination, the language/dialogue is part of their overall characterisation and as such must reflect the people inhabiting the world of the play.

It would be ludicrous for a student playing the role of a builder who upon dropping a hammer on his toe exclaims the words “Oh golly gosh, that stings a bit!” A hormonal teenager does not necessarily profess his or her desire to “make love” and sometimes the only means of aptly describing the behaviour of the less savoury human beings in life requires language that I would shudder to read on a public lavatory wall.

Swearing has its place. As with all things it loses its power out of context or with overuse – but like it or not it is part of our verbal communication and provides a means of expressing our true intent and meaning in a manner that is just as valid as the flowery romance of a renaissance poet, the rhetoric of a politician or the persuasive language abundant in modern advertising campaigns.

The head of Yr11 recently paid a visit to my Drama class to observe her students in the run up to their exam. After complimenting their work ethic and expressing her joy at seeing even the more challenging students working on a performance requiring collaboration and commitment; she regaled me with a witty anecdote about an external visitor being given a tour of the school. Apparently this tour was rudely interrupted by the repeated use of the dreaded “F” word echoing from the theatre. These were good kids in the midst of a Drama rehearsal, who do not tend to swear outside of lessons but who decided that censoring the script would rob it of its character. An explanation and apology was offered to the visitor who simply raised one overly plucked eyebrow and said “GCSE Drama I suppose?”

I frequently quote the taboo words in the context of my lessons. By quoting swear words directly from texts and removing all the emotion from my voice and face I manage to diffuse the impact of these words. Nothing makes a swear word less evocative than hearing your teacher say it in a neutral tone with a blank facial expression! After all if we arent shocked by it, what is the point of saying it? I am also explicit with younger classes who show up on occassion to provide exam groups with an audience and I warn them about the adult content and language. I remind them that we only invite younger audiences to view work if they are mature enough to respond responsibly. It is worth noting that I have never had so much as a giggle from an audience member when a swear word has been used during a performance and I am confident that this is because I tackle it head on.

Swearing has a time and a place – in moderation – just like any other type of language. Sadly; as is the case with so many other things in life, we cannot protect our children from “bad language” altogether. We can simply educate them about finding alternative means of expression. I am not suggesting by any means that we should either encourage or discourage swearing; but attempting to pretend it does not exist or wipe it from existence is as futile as holding back the tide. The bigger our reaction – the more likely it is to become a major source of rebellion and conflict.

In summary: To hell with censorship – LIFE IS TOO F”*KING SHORT.




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